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Peace at any price often leads to an even greater war

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23 December 2023, The Australian, by Dave Sharma

In his history of the post-Napoleonic peace in Europe, A World Restored, Henry Kissinger counselled that peace was the by-product of an international system that was willing to use force if necessary to maintain its underlying principles.

But he warned that if peace alone were the primary objective of such a system, with a desire to avoid war at all costs, it would quickly fall prey to the most ruthless states.

Kissinger was writing with reference to the interwar period. Then, the priority placed on avoiding conflict at all costs after the horrors of World War I was quickly exploited by the most ruthless states at the time: Germany, Japan and Italy.

Germany reoccupied the Rhineland, in violation of the Versailles Treaty. Italy occupied and annexed Abyssinia, while Japan invaded the Chinese province of Manchuria, both in violation of League of Nations rulings.

The end result of a failure to enforce the principles of the interwar system, built in order to safeguard peace, was a total collapse of peace and the eruption of World War II.

In today’s world, two important international principles are on trial, fighting for their lives.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is testing the principle that one sovereign state cannot use force against the territorial integrity of another or acquire territory by force.

Hamas’s terrorist attack of October 7 against Israel, and Israel’s legitimate military response, is testing the principle of the right to self-defence.

Both wars are exacting a heavy human toll. The Russia-Ukraine war has resulted in some 200,000 deaths, while the Israel-Hamas war death toll is close to 20,000.

Faced with mounting casualties, there is a growing peace-at-all-costs camp.

This camp argues the Russia-Ukraine war has reached a military stalemate and Ukraine should now negotiate an armistice that leaves its territory in Russian hands.

It argues the civilian toll from Israel’s military operation against Hamas is too high, and a ceasefire should be imposed immediately, which leaves Hamas in control of Gaza and hostages captive.

It can be hard to argue with the moral sentiments of peace. But just like the peace camp of the interwar period, the settlements these proponents are arguing for will only accelerate and supercharge a greater collapse in global peace.

As Kissinger warned, a failure to defend underlying principles advantages the most aggressive actors and stores up greater conflict down the road.

If Russia is allowed to keep its territorial gains in Ukraine, and Vladimir Putin’s aggression is seen to pay dividends, then all of eastern Europe and the Baltic States become vulnerable. China will be emboldened to seize Taiwan by force. North Korea will be encouraged to test South Korean resolve.

If Israel is stripped of its right to self-defence, and Hamas remains in control of Gaza, then Hamas will be seen to have secured a victory against Israel.

Such a victory will encourage terrorist groups throughout the region, from Hezbollah in southern Lebanon to the Houthis in Yemen, and their patron state, Iran, that terrorism provides the means to secure political objectives.

Not only will this threaten the survival of Israel, the only democracy in the region, it will destabilise the entire Middle East. If we truly want peace, we need to be defending the principles underpinning the order that deters aggressors.

But as a defender of these principles, Australia is missing in action. By running a foreign policy based solely around domestic political considerations, the Albanese government is only contributing to making the world a more dangerous place.

The Albanese government says it supports Israel’s right to defend itself and that Hamas’s removal from power is a necessary precondition for peace. But then it votes for a one-sided UN General Assembly resolution that strips Israel of the right to defend itself and would leave Hamas as the governing authority in Gaza.

The Albanese government says it supports Ukraine’s resistance against Russian aggression. But then it fails to provide any meaningful assistance, declining to send armoured vehicles and tanks. It cannot even deliver the symbolic step of returning our ambassador to Ukraine, leaving this official in Poland instead.

Now the US has asked Australia to contribute to a multinational task force to safeguard commercial shipping in the Red Sea against attacks from the Houthi rebels.

Twenty per cent of the world’s container trade passes through the Red Sea. Avoiding the Suez Canal and the Red Sea between Europe and Asia, and instead going via Africa, takes twice the fuel and several days more at sea.

These increased costs will be passed on to consumers in Australia, adding to inflation and cost-of-living pressures.

As a trading nation that depends upon freedom of navigation and commerce on the high seas for our prosperity, and that has historically contributed to such maritime security operations in the Middle East, it should be a no-brainer for Australia to make a modest contribution to this taskforce.

This is especially true given this small request from the US comes only a week after the US congress, in a historic decision, agreed Australia could take three Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines from US production lines.

While the UK, Italy, Canada and France are all contributing to the maritime taskforce, Anthony Albanese has rejected the request. He is instead only providing words of support.

But a diplomatic statement is not going to deter Houthi attacks on commercial shipping.

There is a pattern here.

The Albanese government talks up its contribution to safeguarding global order. At his Lowy Institute address on Tuesday evening, Albanese asserted Australia had a responsibility to uphold and defend the global framework.

But at every test, at every juncture where the international system is being tested, this government goes to ground. Albanese is relegating Australia to the role of bystander in world affairs, a commentator but not an actor.

The fact that these two recent Albanese decisions have been welcomed by China’s official mouthpiece, the Global Times, reveals everything.

The Albanese Labor government is abandoning Australia’s traditional role as an upholder of global order, and instead placing us on the sidelines.

In the dangerous world in which we live, this is an indulgence Australia cannot afford.

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Article source: The Australian/Dave Sharma 23.12.2023

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000